FEATURES Metalucifer Are Japan’s Heavy Metal Hunters By Brad Sanders · April 18, 2023

When Metalucifer debuted in 1996, heavy metal’s flagship bands were foundering. Blaze Bayley was in Iron Maiden, Ripper Owens was in Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath had just released Forbidden, a truly dreadful album that’s been all but stricken from the historical record. The anvil wasn’t hot, but three young musicians from Japan’s Mie Prefecture decided to strike it anyway. Gezol, who also led the black thrash pioneers Sabbat, teamed up with brothers Elizabigore and Elizaveat to start a project that would pay explicit homage to the classic heavy metal they all loved. Trad metal revivalism was a lonely game back then, but today, Metalucifer are revered as underground heroes.

“In the ’90s, there was a musical peak for genres like death, doom, black metal, and more, while traditional metal was becoming less popular,” Gezol says. (Gezol responded to a series of written interview questions in Japanese, and his answers have been translated into English by A. Jennings and M. Wick.) “So, I entered that niche because, in the 1990s, there was the idea that you could go against the grain to make history and find success. Of course, I was listening to those other genres, and particularly liked black thrash the best. I still had my heart in traditional metal, so when I saw that decline, I said, ‘I guess I’ll do it myself!’ I was lucky that Elizaveat and his brother [Elizabigore] were able to help me. Their contributions were just as important. Without them, I don’t think Metalucifer would be where it is today.”

Metalucifer’s membership has expanded and fluctuated over the years, but that original trio has always formed the band’s core, and they’ve remained single-minded in their focus on all things heavy metal—sonically, lyrically, and aesthetically. “It was purely by accident. My life’s grandest accident,” Gezol says of his lifelong metal obsession. “My classmates in school at the time were listening to metal and hard rock music, but they gradually fell away from it. Unlike those people, I have fond memories of discovering and falling in love with this style of music and decided to dedicate my life to it.”

Gezol started Sabbat in 1984 when he was still a teenager. At the time, few bands were making truly evil-sounding heavy metal; Venom, Bathory, and Hellhammer were among Sabbat’s only real peers early in their career. “In the beginning, I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, just knowing that I wanted to make it a Satanic band,” Gezol says. “I was just influenced by all of the metal I was taking in at the time, and was determined to make the project long lasting and be able to go overseas.”

Sabbat did eventually find that kind of success, inspiring a wave of Japanese extreme metal acts from Sigh to Bellzlleb to Abigail along the way. But Gezol was still enamored with the more melodic heavy metal of his youth, the kind played by bands like Iron Maiden, Accept, Manowar, Satan, Demon, and Anvil. He found himself writing riffs that felt out of step with the black thrash sound of Sabbat.

“I kept those ideas aside, because I wanted to do them someday on some occasion,” Gezol says. “Those ideas became Metalucifer. We did play songs like ‘Wolf Man’ and ‘Headbanging’ in early Sabbat shows, but due to them not sounding like other Sabbat songs, they were replaced in the playlist with other heavier songs. I have tapes of those more melodic riffs. Most of the songs are already officially recorded with Sabbat and Metalucifer, so I’m happy with that. ‘Monster of the Earth’ and ‘Heavy Metal Drill’ are two [of] those ideas.”

Gezol, using the modified stage name Gezolucifer, launched his new band in 1995, borrowing its name from the title of Sabbat’s “Metalucifer and Evilucifer.” Sabbat has received the lion’s share of the acclaim over the years, but Metalucifer is no mere side project. Gezol walked us through all five essential studio releases in the Metalucifer discography, from Heavy Metal Hunter to last year’s Heavy Metal Ninja.

Heavy Metal Hunter (1996)

Heavy Metal Drill is typically remembered as the Metalucifer debut, but the Heavy Metal Hunter EP came out around the same time, and it makes a lot more sense as the band’s opening chapter. At the very least, it includes “Heavy Metal Hunter (Part I),” while Drill is home to “Part II.” That’s good enough for us.

Almost everything that would is fully defined on Heavy Metal Hunter. The blistering title track is a heavy metal song with lyrics about heavy metal. It includes songs in both English and Japanese, and it boasts a seemingly endless supply of churning NWOBHM riffs and shredding melodic leads. The vocals are charmingly rough around the edges and delivered in a thick accent. Perhaps most critically, the famed record collector Neal Tanaka is on the cover, brandishing a power drill. Neal Tanaka is not an official member of Metalucifer, but he’s arguably as important to what they do as anyone besides Gezol.

“I was in high school when [Neal] was attending college,” Gezol says. “We worked together at a famous hotel and amusement park named Nagashima Onsen. We bonded over metal, and would go record shopping in Nagoya. He showed me which records were good, which only had cool art, which were progressive, which was total garbage and which I should buy, etc. He was my record collecting guru.”

Gezol put Tanaka’s photo on the front of Heavy Metal Hunter as a loving tribute to his friend and record store guide. He’s served as Metalucifer’s band mascot ever since, appearing on the cover of nearly every release. He also contributes backing vocals to the albums, though Gezol readily admits that he’s not there to add melodic richness.

“Basically, he is tone-deaf,” Gezol laughs. “So, we keep him in charge of shouting. As a lifelong metalhead, I think he is happy to be mentioned in the same way as Eddie from Iron Maiden or as a legendary record collector.”

Heavy Metal Drill (1996)

The first Metalucifer full-length bursts out of the gate with “Heavy Metal Is My Way.” Gezol’s triumphant vocal really sells the sentiment: “I win the brilliant victories and the golden glories! / I keep on running to the immortal future!” It’s a compelling thesis statement for both the band and their lifestyle, and it kicks off what might still be the best traditional heavy metal album to be released after the genre’s ’80s heyday. Simply put, Heavy Metal Drill is the truth.

Gezol remembers the sessions as a flurry of youthful fun and creative serendipity. “We were recording in February, and we couldn’t return home due to the snow,” he recalls. “We had to find a cheap hotel in a hurry, and the three of us decided to have a ‘small party,’ which was a load of fun.” (I suspect the scare quotes on “small party” are doing a bacchanalian amount of heavy lifting there.)

Metalucifer were still figuring things out when they went to record Heavy Metal Drill, and the process was accordingly loose and freewheeling. “Elizaveat was originally a guitarist, so he was just starting to play drums,” Gezol says. “We recorded ‘Headbanging’ at the end of the session, and you can really hear his passion in that song. I’m happy people are listening to it today.”

“Another story is when Elizabigore told the engineer that he didn’t need to play the drums through the monitor,” Gezol continues. “He recorded the second set of riffs on the left channel in one take. No drums. Perfect sync. The engineer was surprised and impressed. We also had a great time recording the gang vocals with a local metal band.”

Metalucifer would release more polished (though not too much more polished) albums than Heavy Metal Drill, but its puckish energy makes it the purest expression of their philosophy ever captured on tape.

Heavy Metal Chainsaw (2001)

“The band members changed after the first album, so of course, the sound did as well,” Gezol says of 2001’s Heavy Metal Chainsaw. Elizaveat slid back to his primary instrument of guitar, while Elizablumi (the German guitarist born Jochen Blumenthal) and Tormentharou (current Asphyx drummer Stefan Hüskens) joined the fold. The extra members helped flesh out the Metalucifer sound and, as a result, Chainsaw feels a lot bigger than Drill. Songs like “Warriors Ride on the Chariots” and “Lost Sanctuary” unfold on a grand scale that benefits from the presence of three guitarists. Despite having to integrate two new members—new members who didn’t speak Japanese, no less—Gezol says the new Metalucifer instantly shared great chemistry.

“I met Elizablumi for the first time at the recording session, and Tharou for the second or third time, since Sabbat played with his other band Desaster before and I’ve heard their demos,” Gezol recalls. “I wasn’t worried. The music flowed so well, and it was like we had all known each other and played together for a long time. I have no regrets about this session, and I will always remember the fun times together in Koblenz, Germany, and our first live performance as Metalucifer.”

Heavy Metal Bulldozer (2009)

Every song that Metalucifer included on 2009’s Heavy Metal Bulldozer has “Heavy Metal” in its title. There’s “Heavy Metal Ironfists,” “Heavy Metal Battleaxe,” “Heavy Metal Highway Rider,” “Heavy Metal Wings of Steel,” and six others, each one dedicated to a different heavy metal something-or-other. Is that a tongue-in-cheek joke? Gezol isn’t offering any easy answers.

“If you think it’s funny or a joke, that’s fine, but more than that, it’s because we love heavy metal,” Gezol says. “We love heavy metal so much we can scream it in a voice that goes beyond being a ‘joke.’ Sure, we could have left out ‘Heavy Metal’ in all the names, but would it still be Metalucifer? The answer is obviously, ‘NO!’ We won, since if anyone tries to do the same thing, everyone will think they’re trying to copy us. I think Heavy Metal Bulldozer should go into the Guinness Book of World Records for the only full album that has ‘Heavy Metal’ in each song.”

The “Heavy Metal” titles of Heavy Metal Bulldozer are nowhere near the strangest thing about it. It exists as no fewer than three distinct albums: one recorded in English by Gezol, Elizaveat, and Elizabigore; another recorded in Japanese by the same trio; and a third recorded in English by the band’s German contingent. Gezol doesn’t even appear on that last one, yet it’s still credited to Metalucifer. It’s more than a little confusing, but it’s a lot of fun to get swept into this band’s deeply idiosyncratic world. As for why he frequently records in both English and Japanese, Gezol doesn’t seem all that interested in dissecting it.

“There was and is no special way. I just write in which language I feel like,” he says. “If I have the time, maybe I’ll write the lyrics in both. English and Japanese both have their strengths and weaknesses. Since I experienced the same situation in Sabbat, I haven’t really thought about it much. I could go into details [about] how each language can be mixed and tracked differently, but it would be a waste of time to talk about such technicalities.”

Heavy Metal Ninja (2022)

Last year, Metalucifer returned with their first all-new studio release in more than a decade. Heavy Metal Ninja includes a total of eight tracks, with four new songs recorded in both English and Japanese. Despite the longest layoff in band history, Gezol and the gang haven’t changed their approach. The songs are still about heavy metal, and Neal Tanaka is still on the cover. Heavy Metal Ninja does mark the first time that traditional Japanese themes, usually at the periphery of Metalucifer’s work, have made their way into an album title.

“I have wanted to write a song about ninjas for the past 20 years, since two of the biggest cities famous for ninjas, Iga and Kouga, are about an hour from the band’s hometown of Kuwana,” Gezol says. “I am very interested in hearing how Westerners feel about a Japanese band embracing and discussing their own heritage and historical themes. The heavy metal life was chosen as a theme because it has a way of life similar to those who have lived as samurai and ninjas.”

The song that comes after “Heavy Metal Ninja” is called “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” and that sums up the Metalucifer experience quite well. By infusing a style of music that started in the UK with his own distinctively Japanese sensibility, Gezol has created an essential and inimitable new mutation of heavy metal. By drill, by chainsaw, or by bulldozer—Metalucifer’s gonna get you, no matter how far.

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